In the time which has been allotted to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) we have an opportunity of discussing the condition of British horticulture. I think it would be a good thing at the outset to consider the character and structure of this industry. It is an industry within the agricultural industry, and consequently it is ultimately the responsibility of the Minister of Agriculture. There are more than 60,000 growers in British horticulture. Some of them are big men—some very big—but the majority are small men, and their businesses are family affairs employing no outside labour. Most of the post-1945 entries are ex-Service men and women who have sunk all their capital in their holdings. The industry gives permanent employment to some 150,000 persons and seasonal work and wages to many others.British horticulture produces £120 million worth of food a year for the people and that in itself is a very remarkable achievement. It has attained by intensive cultivation and the application of scientific methods, a very high output of food per acre. I shall give only two examples. There are 4,142 acres of commercial glasshouses. All those have been developed during the past 70 years. There are 1,000 acres of cloches in use by over 5,000 commercial growers. If the number of growers using cloches, Dutch lights and frames, which all represents a great investment of money, are calculated together there must be at least 10,000. One virtue of the cloche growers is that they produce four crops in a year. Last year they produced 4,000 tons of lettuce, 8,200 tons of tomatoes and 4,500 tons of cucumbers. It should also be remembered, although it is very often forgotten, that in a kind season Britain grows the best fruit and vegetables in the world. That, very broadly, is the picture of the industry which, in my opinion, has been placed in grave jeopardy by the policy of the Minister of Food. I do not exaggerate when I say that he has created alarm and anger throughout the industry. I do not doubt the good will of the Minister of Agriculture who has ultimate responsibility for the welfare of this industry, but we need something much more than good will at the present time. The attitude of the Minister of Food is very different. It is quite evident from his replies to questions and in his statements, that the Minister of Food does not regard British horticulture as a band of hardworking men and women doing a fine job of food production. He seems to regard them as a band of hard-faced people who are trying to hold the nation to ransom. I think his attitude to the industry was well illustrated by two replies which he gave in this House on 21st March. In reply to a Question from myself asking if he had consulted the home growers before signing the Netherlands Agreement he said:
No one has ever asked him to take the advice in full, or to take it always. The complaint of the industry is that he never takes that advice. There was no proper consultation at all before the Netherlands Agreement was signed. He assumed, without taking the trouble to find out, that the advice of the industry would be a demand either for no imports or for higher prices. Actually the advice which the industry had to give contained neither of those demands. The second reply of the Minister was to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Camborne (Commander Agnew) who asked about the adverse effect of broccoli imports on the Cornish crop. The Minister replied that he intended to use the price weapon to give cheap broccoli to the British housewife. Again there is the implication that the growers wish to hold the consumers to ransom. If the Minister will study the story of British horticulture during the war years, when his predecessors were very grateful for the great contribution it made to the national food supply—often at considerable financial sacrifice to itself—he will realise how mistaken he is in that view. The Minister of Food, presumably with the agreement of the Minister of Agriculture, has adopted a horticultural imports policy which, in my view, will lead in the end not to cheaper and better supplies to the consumer, but to an evil succession of gluts and shortages. In the few minutes at my disposal I can give only two examples. Last year his import policy and failure to take heed of cropping and market intelligence resulted in an unsaleable glut of homegrown onions. That was the British growers' reward for obeying the call of the Minister of Agriculture to grow more onions. The home consumption of onions is estimated at something under 250,000 tons a year. Under the agreements with the Netherlands, Poland and other countries, imports of 296,000 tons are to be allowed this year. Therefore, we shall have 296,000 tons of onions, without any of the home crop at all, to meet the demand of something less than 250,000 tons. It is true that under the Netherlands Agreement the Minister can fix the date for Dutch imports at any time before 15th September, having regard to the size of the home crop. But, as was found out last year, that regulation can be evaded comparatively easily. It is far from being an adequate safeguard. Highly experienced growers believe that the Minister's onion policy will result in another glut in 1949, more losses for British growers, and then a shortage in 1950. The other example I take is that of tomatoes. The Minister has agreed to allow the importation in 1949 of 23,000 tons of Dutch tomatoes, compared with 12,000 tons in 1948. Of the 23,000 tons approximately 8,250 tons may be imported during July and August. That means, following the Dutch cropping practice, that 14,750 tons are left to be imported before 30th June. The proposed total imports are 1,259 tons more than the total average Dutch production, 20 per cent. of which is available in June. The only inference is that if the Dutch are to meet their contract they will buy tomatoes from over the border in Belgium and re-export them to this country. It means also that the major part of the imports will come in at exactly the same time as the crop from Guernsey and our own hot-house crop. It is ironical to see if one looks at Europe today that the Minister of Food's tomato import policy is encouraging tomato production in Morocco, the Canary Islands and Holland and discouraging it in England. Scotland and the Channel Islands. What is the solution? How can British horticulture be safeguarded and given stability while ensuring that the consumer gets adequate supplies at a reasonable price. There are five steps which can be taken. The first involves a more skilful routing of foreign imports to ensure that they do not, as so often happens now, come to the South of England markets which are already adequately supplied with home-grown products. That applies particularly to broccoli, lettuce, radishes, strawberries, cherries, plums and tomatoes. The refrigerated trains from Dover should be routed not to London but to the North. Similarly, shipping carrying imports from Holland should be routed to Hull, Immingham and Newcastle instead of London and Harwich. The northern markets which do not see any of these products in quantity now would then get their fair share. The second step is that more materials should be made available to enable British growers to use a limited quantity of non-returnable containers, and more packing materials generally. That would secure a better over-all distribution. There is nothing the railway companies hate more than having to bring back from the North of England empty containers. If this step were taken it would enable the British grower to compete more or less on fair terms with the foreigner who gets all the containers and packing materials he wants. The third point concerns better grading and packing of home produce by the growers and the ruthless elimination by them of sub-standard produce. That can result from more growers' co-operatives for marketing produce of small growers, more packing materials, and above all from stability. One cannot get high overall quality without stability. Better marketing, distribution and grading all depend upon a sound and stable policy. The fourth step is a quantitative regulation of imports taking into consideration the quantity of home supplies available; a long-term policy which gives the industry a chance to plan ahead. The Government's lack of policy was completely betrayed by the Prime Minister on 28th March when answering a series of questions on vegetable imports. He said:"If we always took in full all the advice given by the British horticultural industry, I am afraid that the price of vegetables would be very high indeed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st March, 1949; Vol. 463, c. 20.]
If onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and other horticultural products are being brought into the country on this bad principle, I say that we shall never get stability in horticulture. My fifth and last proposal is the readjustment of tariffs on imported produce in order to relate them to pre-war conditions. If the Minister of Food or any hon. Member opposite doubts the wisdom of this policy, I would refer them to page 7 of the pamphlet entitled "Our Land." There it states:"… in order to get necessary things, we have to import certain other things which we do not want."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th March, 1949; Vol. 463, c. 835.]
That pamphlet was published by the Labour Party. At present the Government seem to have no policy for horticulture, although the Minister of Agriculture said on 12th March at Lincoln:"All that has happened since 1932 has strengthened the case so forcibly stated in the Party's Memorandum of that time, for the necessity of the stabilisation of fair prices, and for the adoption of a comprehensive system of imports control."
The Government ask for large acreages of individual crops, and then they destroy the market for them by large imports of the same crops. I wonder whether the Ministers of Food and Agriculture and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture visited the Government's "On Our Way" Exhibition. In it were included two display panels. One bore the photograph of a land girl, leaning on a fork, and a young man driving a tractor. The caption on the panel was:"The horticultural industry has an important contribution to make to our programme."
Immediately opposite that panel was another, made up of six pictures of horticultural produce. Prominent in it were the British onions now rotting on the waste heaps of Lincolnshire: the leeks now being ploughed into the fields of Kent; and the Cornish broccoli unable to find a market. A little penance in front of these panels might be good for these Ministers. I quote the words of a leading figure in industry speaking on the attitude of the Government. He says:"More production from the land—to save imports of food and raw materials."
I will quote also one of the greatest horticultural experts in this country, Mr. F. A. Secrett, who was adviser to the Minister of Agriculture from 1942 to 1948. In February he wrote:"It is a travesty to call it a policy because there is no semblance of any clear plan for the horticultural industry having emerged from the Government so far. The industry is drifting aimlessly, buffeted about from time to time, and the dangers must be apparent to all. Imports are, in theory, regulated, but in practice completely unregulated. Foreign produce is being brought in while home-grown is being ploughed in."
"I have been in business producing horticultural crops for the last 41 years. During the last few months I have destroyed more vegetable crops than were destroyed on my farms during the last two decades."
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the advice tendered by Mr. Secrett was followed from 1942 to 1948 and was responsible for the destruction of more lettuce in 1946 than occurred in any season before?
I understand that when Mr. Secrett was adviser to the Minister of Agriculture, there was certainly not such a destruction of crops as is the case now. That is the view of the 60,000 growers of the industry who produced over three-quarters of our total consumption of vegetable crops They do not ask for closed markets, or a shutdown on imports; only a sensible regulation and intelligent distribution to the markets that need them most. They do not ask for guaranteed prices, but they do ask for some semblance of continuity in Government policy, an end to the contradiction under which the Minister of Agriculture says to them, "Maintain your acreage, grow more, carry increased labour and material costs without guaranteed prices," while the Minister of Food says, "I will force down prices by any means in my power." The horticultural industry asks for stability. The alternative will be ruin for a very large number of small men and a serious decline in home production.In the Debate on groundnuts, the Minister of Food gave the House a Latin quotation. In my bad Latin, I will give him another: Labore agricolae fioreat civitas—"By the toil of the husbandman may the nation flourish." That is golden truth. Our forefathers have left us a priceless legacy—the land of Britain. It is both valuable and beautiful, and we can make it more valuable and more beautiful, for the greater comfort and security of everyone. I shall conclude on a personal note. I believe that the Minister of Food lives in Essex. I ask him next week-end to go up to the edge of Hainault Forest and look out across the Essex fields towards the Thames and the Kent hills beyond. It is a broad and beautiful vista, within which he will see not only many horticultural holdings, but many of the houses of the people of East London, whom they feed. To "stand and stare" will be for him time well spent, because if he can see the mistake he made over meat, the miscalculation which he made over groundnuts and the blunder he is making over horticulture, he may also see—
"in vision the worm in the wheat,
And in the shops nothing for people to eat,
Nothing for sale in Stupidity Street."
If I may resume the Debate on horticulture, I would like, first of all, to congratulate the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Baker White) on raising the Question of horticulture, which in relation to its importance is discussed all too infrequently in this House. The hon. Gentleman made several valuable suggestions for the consideration of the Minister which I hope will be given careful attention. With at least one of his strictures on the Government I am in agreement, namely, that a sound horticultural policy should have been produced and implemented long since. In regard to most of his other remarks, I thought they were largely a travesty of or a complete failure to appreciate the whole of the facts. Some of his remarks were directed against my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food, who was accused of regarding horticulturists as a band of hard-faced men trying to hold the nation to ransom. It was also said that the horticultural industry had been placed in jeopardy by his acts of omission or commission.The Minister of Food, of course, has some responsibility in this matter, but his chief responsibility, and in fact the prime responsibility of the Government with regard to horticulture, is to assist the industry to fulfil its prime and most important function, which is to ensure to the housewife a sufficient supply, both in quantity and variety, of fruit and vegetables at reasonable prices. That must be and must remain the prime function of any Minister concerned with horticulture, and it was significant that the hon. Member in his speech scarcely mentioned the public at all. It is for that reason that I criticise what he said and the general attitude of the party opposite in that they, apparently, see only one section of an industry which has three parts which are indivisible—the growing of horticultural produce, its wholesale distribution and its retail distribution. It is quite impossible to consider one section alone; they must be regarded as a whole, and we must always keep before us the objective of what the housewife is going to pay for the produce. The hon. Gentleman mentioned onions, and said that under the present arrangements the home crop, plus imports provisionally arranged for, will total 296,000 tons, against an estimated consumption of 240,000 tons. Before the war, the average importation of onions was always about 250,000 tons, though sometimes it was above and sometimes below that figure. We also had a small home production. The home demand for all these fruits and vegetables today, under full employment and increased purchasing power, is far higher. In tomatoes, it is more than double what it was before the war. There must be something wrong with the hon. Gentleman's figures there.
Does the hon. Gentleman know what was the consumption of onions in this country last year?
I should imagine it was in excess of 240,000 tons.
It was 153,000 tons.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned consumption, which was, in fact, far higher than that. The hon. Member for Canterbury said that onions are now rotting in the fields of Lincolnshire, and I say that that is a slander on the farmers of Lincolnshire, because English onions rarely keep beyond December, and if they have not disposed of them and used the land for some other purpose, it is just bad husbandry. Last year, we had an exceptional onion harvest and we produced many times what we produced in pre-war years. I subscribe entirely to the view that there must be a sensible relationship between imports and home production, and it is utterly wrong for home producers to produce a certain acreage of foodstuffs and then not to be assured, as reasonably as we can assure them, of a proper market.No good is done to the horticultural industry however by painting this exaggerated picture or by using the very fortunate fact of a plentiful supply as political propaganda. Before the war, it was, in the main, true that the Tory policy was designed to grow richer and richer by producing less and less. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Oh, yes. What about potatoes? What about hops? We are now reversing that policy by planning for greater supplies, but we should see that they reach the housewife without the enormous handicap of increased costs of distribution, which are the main factor in robbing the producer of the rewards of his toil. There has also been some mention of broccoli. The hon. Member referred to my right hon. Friend's reply to a question put to him by the hon. and gallant Member for Camborne (Commander Agnew) about the effect of broccoli imports on home growers. I made it my business to find out, because the hon. Member also said that Cornish broccoli growers could not sell their crops. That is absolutely untrue. They have had a very good season, certainly far better than last year, which was largely due to the unpublicised efforts of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food, who encouraged them to engage in co-operative packing and grading. Their efforts this year have been extremely successful, and they are to be congratulated on the great advance they have made in this important matter. But if we examine the prices, we find that today the Cornish broccoli grower is getting an average wholesale price of 8d. for his broccoli. Up to 31st March, Italian and French broccoli were coming in, and the Cornish grower was getting precisely the same price for well-packed and well-graded stuff as was paid for those imports. Of course, he did not get it for rubbish, and it is only right that he should not do so. But the three products were sold on an equality of price. What were those prices? The wholesale price was 8d. or 1s., but in the shops the prices were 2s. and 2s. 6d. That is the important thing. Is it suggested that Italian and French broccoli imports should have been excluded? Had they been, what would have been the position of the housewife, and how high would prices have risen? The whole country would have condemned the Government for its policy in denying the housewife proper access to sufficient supplies. The same thing can be said about lettuce. At the present time, thousands of crates of Dutch lettuce are coming in every day: they are being sold at the wholesale price of 6d. a lettuce. English lettuce, smaller but fresher, are also being sold today at a wholesale price of 6d. or 7d. each. That is a very fair price, but unfortunately the housewife is paying 10d. to 1s. 3d., which is not a fair price. We speak of the limits of home consumption, but we must also bear in mind that what we mean is the limit of consumption at a price. If, in fact, the present system is producing a price of 1s. or 1s. 3d. for a lettuce, then obviously the demand is nothing like what it would be if that produce could be got to the housewife at a lower price, though one sufficient to reward the efficient producer and distributor. No one in this House can deny that at the present moment, and for some time past, the prices obtained for properly produced stuff are very fair to the producer. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), who comes from a big producing area, will know that sprout growers have had a good season and have received good prices; but if the horticulturist then says that the supplies are too large, I say that he is damaging his own cause. He should attack the trouble where it exists—the distributing cost and the wide margin between what he gets and what the consumer pays. One more point on the price of green-stuffs. The tragedy this year has been the very low prices obtained for cabbages and things of that kind. It is true that farmers have had to plough them in because they could not get a reasonable price; but in that class of produce there are no imports at all, and therefore it cannot be argued that that is what is causing the trouble. I urge, therefore, that we should apply ourselves as quickly as possible to the real cause of the difficulty, which is that, as a result of the war emergency, the tendency has grown up to produce quantity instead of quality and to pay completely insufficient regard to the importance of packing and grading. It is generally acknowledged throughout the trade that, to a very large extent in English horticulture, there is nothing like the attempt at proper packing and grading which there is in other countries.
Surely the hon. Gentleman is aware that one of the greatest difficulties from which growers suffer is that the packing material is not available, and that, if a grower has not the special packing, the actual grading is completely wasted. Surely he must be fair and tell the House that.
I agree that our people do suffer some disability with regard to packing materials, but, for instance, when crating cauliflowers—and there is no shortage of crates at all—it is just as easy to sort them out as to put in indiscriminately small, medium and large vegetables, as is often done.
It is no use the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) shaking his head. I know this happens because I see it every day.
So do I.
I agree that there are many first-class packers, but it is the other people who let them down, and that is why we get these complaints about very bad prices.I wish to make some suggestions to my hon. Friend who is to reply. It is a fact that whenever we have a Debate on horticulture, if the Minister of Agriculture is replying, most of what is said is addressed to the Minister of Food, and vice versa. There we have the real crux of the problem, because there is the question of a division of responsibility. Some people say that the thing to do is to amalgamate the two Ministries. I say that is nonsense, that it is using a steam hammer to crack a grape. [An HON. MEMBER: "A grapenut."] What is important, however, is that there should be a transfer of certain functions, and, if necessary, a transfer of certain staffs. One Department should be responsible for acreage targets, for the arrangement of the eventual distribution, and for the correlationship of imports, but it would be folly to suggest that the two Ministries should be combined. We must remember that growing, wholesaling and retailing are not three industries but one, and only if we realise that fact can this problem be properly tackled. Therefore, I suggest that the three sections of the industry should be given an opportunity to get together and within a time limit produce a comprehensive plan which would ensure, first, efficient production, grading and packing; secondly, the elimination of second, third and fourth hand wholesaling, which we find iniquitous; and thirdly, a reasonable retail price instead of the 100, 150 or 200 per cent. above the grower's price which often operates now. We should also definitely tell the home growers that we reserve to them whatever proportion of the home market they can supply with efficiently-produced and properly-packed goods, with a costing machinery as a yardstick of efficiency. We should give the industry acreage targets, and, assuming an average crop, arrange the import programme so as to fill any gap between the estimated crop and maximum estimated consumption. Imports could easily be stepped up in the event of a partial crop failure. We should also give the industry whatever facilities are needed to set up packing stations, cold-storage and quick-freezing plants, and the processing of ungradeable produce, and we should also be prepared to assist with Government publicity in periods of glut due to exceptional harvests. Finally, never let us forget that our function is to supply sufficient food at a reasonable price, to ensure that the system is efficient, and that vast expenses do not go in a completely inefficient distributing system; that our first duty is to the housewife, and that, until the industry itself can show it is efficient in all the ways I have mentioned, it cannot come along—I do not believe it does—and ask for a wall to be set up behind which it can shelter. When it is efficient it will not need the tariffs and quotas which are now asked for. It will be able to stand on its own feet and supply the main part of our market.
It appeared to me that the beginning and the end parts of the speech of the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins) were almost in direct conflict with each other. First, he put a halo round the Government for their actions, and at the end he told them what they perhaps ought to do. There was another point which rather puzzled me. What I have to say is subject to a certain amount of reservation until I have read the hon. Member's speech, but I was rather worried because he seemed to imply that if there came a time of surplus products in agriculture and horticulture, with consequent dumping and so forth, the prime duty of the Minister would be to see to the question of the cheapness of the food; the hon. Gentleman did not appear to attach any importance to the necessity for maintaining the security of these industries at full strength. I have already said that I reserve the right to read what the hon. Member in fact said, but that is the impression he gave me.
What I definitely said was that the first duty of the Minister was to ensure a sufficient supply to the housewife at a reasonable price. At a later stage I also said it was the duty of the Minister to reserve for the efficient home producer, the maximum share of the market which he was able to supply.
It is fortunate that the hon. Member for Taunton has now made himself clear, because I was not at all certain on that point. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Baker White), with whose speech I fully agree, mentioned the importance of this industry, which indeed we all recognise, but I should mention that the hon. Member for Taunton said it was strange that the Minister of Agriculture always seemed to reply to our Debates whereas the attack from hon. Members on this side was directed at the Ministry of Food.
And vice versa.
In that case I agree with the hon. Member, because it is the Ministry of Food which I wish to attack.
There should not be any suggestion that the wrong Minister is replying to this Debate, because I took steps to find out which of the two Ministers the hon. Gentleman wanted to reply. That is why I am here.
Three points struck me as important in relation to this industry. First of all, we know that horticulturists cannot suddenly be made overnight. It is a skilled industry, and a certain amount of training is required. Also, from a purely security point of view, nothing is more important than that we should have the nutritional benefits of fresh vegetables if we should ever be a beleaguered island. Therefore, security enters into the question of horticulture. My chief quarrel with the Government's behaviour towards horticulture in general is this. Again and again there appears to have been no real co-ordination between the Ministries of Food and Agriculture. Imported surpluses have come on to the market and they have had a definite effect upon our horticultural produce. In addition, there has arisen in the minds of those engaged in horticulture a grave anxiety as to what the Government intend to do, and whether or not the Minister of Food is suddenly going to dump an imported surplus upon this country.I represent a Cornish division, and the whole question of horticulture affects us greatly. The Tamar Valley, that famous valley which supplies all varieties of horticultural produce including soft fruits and flowers, includes the Calstock parish. In the West of Cornwall broccoli and flowers play their part. Here indeed the pressure of imports has imposed anxiety and loss. Not only has pressure had to be put on the Ministry concerned in order to try to get a different date for delivery of these goods, but there has been the over-riding anxiety whether the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Agriculture have consulted together in order to co-ordinate the arrival of that produce. It will have been observed that although a target has been set for the production of broccoli, further import licences have been granted; likewise there is a fivefold increase in the quota for gooseberries and a 50 per cent. increase in hot-house strawberries. This may well affect the parish of Calstock. In the negotiations between the Ministry of Food and the countries concerned, why should they not arrange first of all, a minimum amount of imported produce to be taken, and then additional amounts introduced on a sliding scale so that they are actually related to the productivity of the crops that we ourselves produce? There has been some quarrel over what the Prime Minister said the other day. The hon. Member for Taunton appears to differ from the Prime Minister's view because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury has said, the Prime Minister stated that there were certain occasions when imports had to be taken although there was no necessity to take them. It appeared to me that the hon. Member for Taunton was arguing that the imports were only taken when it was a consumer necessity to take them. Those two arguments are rather different. I do not agree with the Prime Minister's view; there is no necessity to take those imports which are having a detrimental effect upon us. If we have to take goods why not raise the tourist quota and give a free selection thereby. The Parliamentary Secretary is aware of the difficulties with regard to containers and timber, and he knows that I have taken up the matter with his Ministry and the Board of Trade. Although I would be the first to admit that they are doing all they can in the matter, I sincerely trust that they will try more speedily to find an answer to the problem. I have tried without success to put a Question about rail transport of horticultural produce, but since the nationalisation of the railways it has been ruled that such Questions cannot be tabled. Horticulturists in Cornwall are suffering greatly from the delay at the railway terminals. I do not want to give the impression that the delays of the trains are responsible for the difficulties. It is partly due to the delay at the terminals in getting the produce to the markets. There have been considerable losses, and horticulturists are very anxious, especially the flower growers.
Would the hon. Member be a little more specific in saying what the delay is?
When the produce arrives at the terminal stations in London the removal of that produce to the markets is delayed, so that the flowers and so forth are not fresh on their arrival at the markets. I sincerely trust that we shall see fit to promote ventures in canning and freezing plant in order to provide facilities for the surpluses that occur, and that His Majesty's Government will give every help they can in that direction.I feel that horticulture has suffered or appears to suffer from all the penalties that are imposed upon it and enjoys few of the privileges which all in this House agree agriculturalists should have. Mr. Secrett has already been referred to, and I think that no one in the House would deny the fact that he is a man of great knowledge upon this subject. He was adviser to the Ministry of Agriculture from 1942–48 and the matter which was raised by the hon. Member for Taunton in that connection covers only one point during a considerable period of time. Mr. Secrett, in Lloyd's Bank Review for April, 1949, says:
I say that the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Agriculture must not only talk about co-ordination; there must be co-ordination between those two Ministries."Is there any wonder that a spirit of frustration exists among them, men to whom pride of production means so much? This state of affairs must not continue. The atmosphere of frustration exists from the youngest member on the farm to the managing director. … The industry faces nothing but chaos and perplexity. Frustration is a bleak and distressing theme."
The subject selected for the Adjournment Debate this morning marks an awakening interest of the Opposition in agriculture, and horticulture in particular.
I am not an expert on nonsense, but if the hon. and gallant Gentleman catches the Speaker's eye he will have an opportunity of demonstrating how much he knows about nonsense. I began to wonder just what hon. Members opposite had in mind when they sought to raise this subject; whether it was an attempt to atone for their own past—and the miserable failure of Conservative Governments before the war in regard to agriculture—or whether it was some form of competition with the Minister of Agriculture to try to prove that they are greater friends of the industry than is the Minister himself.I have many grave reservations about the policy of the Minister of Agriculture. I expressed them in this House a few days ago. I should be out of Order if I developed that argument further, but it seems to me that the Minister of Agriculture has proved his friendship for the industry to a greater degree than any previous Minister. But the shovelling out of millions every time he wants to change a policy is not necessarily good for the country. I have very grave doubts as to how far it is wise for that policy to be pursued. I rather wondered, when trying to analyse what was in the minds of the Opposition on this subject, whether the real purpose in this Debate and similar Debates is the old one of isolating the Minister—in this case the Minister of Food—and having a good shot at him. That technique is not unusual; it has been followed by the Communist Party ever since we have had a Communist Party, and it rather seems to me that the Tory Party are now beginning to adopt the same tactics. What I failed to hear from hon. Gentlemen opposite was any charge that the agricultural industry is not in a prosperous state. I think that if Members would turn to Command Paper 7649 on "Income and Expenditure" they would find under the heading "Composition of Personal Income" that the farmers of this country have done pretty well out of the changes in the last few years. In 1938—and I quote from page 11—the income from farming was £60 million and in 1948 the income was £248 million, so apparently the argument that the industry is having a bad time, in terms of financial reward, can hardly be sustained. I agree broadly with the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins). What we have not been told this morning is that until the Minister of Food started importing broccoli, it was being sold on a constantly rising market. I shall begin to have very grave doubts about the policy of His Majesty's Government in regard to the importing of foodstuffs, if we are to lend ourselves to the position that because of pressure by the agricultural industry the consumer is to be denied types of food to which he has a legitimate right. I should like the Minister, in his reply, to deny or substantiate that during last year pressure was put on by the agricultural interests to prevent the importation of new peas because the agricultural industry of this country had a surplus of green cabbages of which they could not dispose. There is great danger if the Ministry, either by marketing boards or by direct contact, are going to limit what is a perfectly legitimate right of the consumers. Another thing that we have not been told this morning is that in the case of onions, which hon. Members opposite seem to know so much about, the actual amount available was 16 times the normal amount. I am quite prepared to concede that the amount sown, in acreage, was eight times what we had in the previous year. We can blame the Minister of Food for a lot—we may not like his face or a lot of things about him, and we may not like the school he went to—but we certainly cannot blame him when the weather produces such bountiful crops. I should have thought that good weather and bountiful crops meant that the Deity had smiled upon us, but to listen to hon. Members opposite one would have thought that the Minister of Food was himself the devil incarnate. We have heard this morning about tomatoes but we have not heard about cucumbers. What the opener of the Debate did not tell us in regard to the scheduled imports from Holland is how far they relate not only to production in Holland but to consumption in this country. I tell hon. Members opposite that never in the whole of its history has the glass-house industry of this country made such fantastic profits as they have made during the past few years. If that is an implied criticism of the Minister of Food, I am quite prepared to make it. Cucumbers have been sold during the last 12 months at five times the pre-war figure and tomatoes at over 2¾ times the pre-war figure. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the Co-op.?"] That is a very interesting point. As a matter of deliberate policy my own society has always sold its tomatoes at 2d. and 3d. per lb. below the prices obtaining in the rest of the country, with the result that retailers in the district have had to bring down their prices to compete. I am not going to argue that the Co-op. in general followed that policy, but in my own society that is the policy we have followed. The policy of the Minister in regard to importations of tomatoes has had a far-reaching effect upon the consumers. At the present time we have perfectly good imported tomatoes retailed at from 1s. 3d. to 1s. 6d. per lb., and if these imports had not been coming in, I am certain that new English tomatoes would be selling at somewhere about 3s. Underlying this question is the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton, that this country in terms of its glasshouse industry is not equipped to provide the amount and type of food in demand. The same applies also in regard to soft fruits. The working people of this country—and I am not seeking to make any party point but merely stating economic facts—like tomatoes and look upon them today as a normal necessity, whereas in 1935 or 1936 they were looked upon as a form of luxury. Whatever we do, we must face the position that for many years to come it will be quite impossible for home production to satisfy the demands that come from full employment. That is one of the problems, because with full employment there is bound to be a wider spread of purchasing power. We must not look upon this matter in isolation. Members opposite are continually pressing the Board of Trade, the Chancellor of the Exchequer or other Government Departments to step up our exports. This country, due to its climate and peculiar conditions, must of necessity obtain some types of horticultural produce from Continental countries. It is unsound for Members opposite constantly to press for what is in effect a high protectionist policy, which stops Italy, France or the Netherlands from sending to this country the type of food they can produce cheaply and efficiently, thereby preventing a balance of exchange as between imports and exports. Whatever happens and however much we intensify our agricultural and horticultural efforts, we are still faced with the simple fact that over 50 per cent. of our food must be imported if our people are to live. We cannot escape economic facts in our approach to this subject. So often in these Debates we have an isolated and specialised approach which ignores the broad economic facts. I should have preferred the Debate to concentrate more on the disposal of the products after they leave the farmers. It seems that the policy of my right hon. Friend in giving freedom to the retailers in the greengrocery trade has not produced the results he expected. The argument was that the free wind of competition would bring down prices and consumers would get the commodities they wanted, but that has not happened, for the simple reason that so many of the retailers have got used to high profits out of marketing shortages that they prefer to continue a market shortage rather than provide goods in greater amount at lower prices. I do not say that I am not indebted to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Baker White) for raising this subject, and whatever I may have said about the motives of hon. Members opposite I still think that this is a useful subject to debate. I sincerely hope that next time we have a Debate on this subject we shall spend more time in dealing with the receiving end and the high profits that are being made, which are so often preventing the consumers from obtaining the advantage of the agricultural policy of the Government.
I hope that the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines), will forgive me if I do not follow in detail what he has said, except to contest his statement that we must always expect to import at least 50 per cent., if not more, of the food we require. I do not believe that is true. We have to make certain that our production is stepped up and that the figure of 50 per cent. is not laid down as an amount beyond which we must not go. I think that his argument is very unsound. I do not wish to attack the Minister of Food or the Minister of Agriculture, but I want to get at the Secretary of State for Scotland who is not here. His link between the Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture is that he is the Minister of Agriculture for Scotland, but it must be a very tenuous link if we are to judge by results.We in Scotland are faced with a very severe problem in the matter of horticulture. We have a double difficulty. We not only have competition from Continental countries, but we have an enormous amount of competition from South of the Border. I say that in no unfriendly spirit; but the fact remains that the importations from England of horticultural products are on a very large scale. I want to know what the Secretary of State for Scotland has been doing to safeguard the producers in Scotland. I am bound to say I regret, in, view of the fact that long notice has been given of the subject of this Debate, that at least one of the three Ministers for Scotland has not been able to be present.
Perhaps we ought to have all the Members of the Government Front Bench present to ensure that we have the right man.
No. The Secretary of State for Scotland is the Minister of Agriculture in Scotland. I am not expecting the hon. Gentleman to answer my questions, because he cannot answer them—at least he can get away with it on those grounds. I wish to ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to go into the question of transit charges in respect of the more distant parts of Scotland, to see if it is not possible for the more outlying places to have the benefit of fresh fruit and vegetables which they are not able to grow for themselves. May we also know whether there is to be any limit as to what is to be produced in Scotland and what is to be imported? If, as we hope, there is to be a plan for what is to be imported and what the home farmer has to grow for Great Britain as a whole, we want to know in particular as regards Scotland.I do not think it right to say, as the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins) said, that in the production of fruit and vegetables the first consideration must always be the consumer and the housewife. The first consideration must be a healthy countryside, for without that, the housewife suffers anyway. Let us have first of all, certainty that the agricultural and horticultural community, from whom I agree high standards must be expected shall be given every chance to maintain a healthy countryside. Without that no country can be said to be either safe or healthy.
I am myself a farmer, I have attended agricultural Debates with a good deal of regularity during these last years, and I may say, quite frankly, that I have attended them with a steadily mounting nausea. Hon. Members opposite who represent rural constituencies seem to have completely forgotten that they are Members of Parliament responsible to the whole community, and have constituted themselves into a farm lobby on the American basis. They are encouraging the farming community to adopt the attitude of a pampered keep of the rest of the community. That is an attitude of mind which is neither healthy for the farmers nor likely to contribute to their good. It is time they learned that this people do not eat exclusively for the convenience of the farmer. Under this Government the farming community has undoubtedly been the most favoured section of this nation. It has had a prosperity which it has never experienced before in peacetime; it has been given a secure future such as it never knew before; and yet when any trifling matter goes wrong, perhaps because of an excessive crop, a shriek is raised about it in this House.Do let us realise some things about market gardeners if we are to debate this subject. Any market gardener reckons in his plan to plough back at least 20 per cent. of his crops. A market gardener plants supplies for a market, and he wants reserves in order to be able to supply that market. His most expensive cost item is not planting the crop but gathering and packing it, conveying it to market, and selling it. That is far and away the most expensive costing item in his production. In order, therefore, to be able to present crops to market, an excess of requirements is always planted. The market gardener cannot anticipate just how the crops will come, but it is generally reckoned that 20 per cent. of the crop will always, as a matter of business, have to be ploughed back. But when that ordinary incident of business occurs nowadays and some of these crops are ploughed back, we have a high-pitched feminine shriek that adequate protection has not been provided. The rest of the community are getting sick of it, and it is time somebody said so.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), like so many of his hon. Friends, keeps charging the "wicked Tories" with wanting to look after only one section of the community. Surely he realises that it is in the consumers' interest to have a healthy agricultural and horticultural industry in this country, and that we can grow fresher produce of at least equal quality and value compared with any other country. If he kills that home-produced article, he will indeed harm the interests of the consumers themselves.What we complain about is that the Minister keeps urging the producers of this country to produce more and just as they do it, he then swamps the market with imports. Every hon. Member knows that in this little island of ours there is room to grow horticultural produce, but there is not room to grow vast areas of wheat. Horticulture is something we can do, and do well; we have the ability to do it, and it is an industry we must have in the event of war. All hon. Members also know that one acre in horticultural hands produces a value equivalent to ten times as much as an acre in agricultural hands. During the war the Government helped and encouraged; they now seem to be throwing the producer to the winds. I want to make quite clear, in view of what the hon. and learned Member for Northampton said, the promises of help and the encouragement to grow more the Minister has given. I have a few quotations, if the House will bear with me. In 1947 the Minister said:
The Parliamentary Secretary of that time said that the Government was equally concerned to see that on the horticultural side of the industry there was stability, and that the tariff position would not be overlooked when the Government had decided on the matters arising at Geneva; and he looked forward to seeing in the years to come horticulture playing its proper part in this country. He added:"the Government fully recognise that there is a substantial range of products, particularly horticultural crops, which are not covered by the provisions of assured markets and guaranteed prices. … The Government fully recognise that other means of obtaining this object for these other commodities must be devised."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th January, 1947; Vol. 432, c. 631.]
Finally, the Parliamentary Secretary said that he hoped for a very large expansion of fruit production, and felt sure that horticulture would make its full contribution. The result of these promises has been, no tariff but colossal imports. It is true that the times of imports have been controlled to some extent; but they have been very badly controlled. The example of onions has already been cited, so I shall not dwell on that. Last year 500 tons of Italian cherries were imported into this country five days before the English crop was ready to pick. The Parliamentary Secretary may say that it is very difficult to know exactly when the cherry crop is coming in. But every cherry grower will tell him that once the blossom has been seen he can reckon to within a few days when the fruit of the cherry will be ready to pick. Yet last year they imported Italian cherries five days before our own crop was ready. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Baker White) urged the Minister to send the imports he is bringing in up to the North, because they are starved of fruit whilst in the South we have too much. He said that the trouble was that the railways would not bring the empty boxes back. Therefore, the South of England could not supply the North, and this I confirm. Surely the solution would be for the imports to go direct to the North and the southern growers to provide for the southern consumers. It is not only the time of the imports about which we complain but the place. I can bear out what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury as to Italian broccoli. I have seen them landed at London, Brighton and Portsmouth, which are all near the fields where the Kent and Cornish broccoli grow. All this is bad enough, but we now have thrust upon us the Anglo-Dutch agreement. I understand that the N.F.U. were to be consulted about this, and they were. Then various recommendations were made to which the Farmers Union were not asked to agree, and there were no further consultations. That is the way the industry is being treated at the present time. The result of this Anglo-Dutch Agreement is that tomato imports are going to be doubled. Not only that, but they are going to be brought in in August, in spite of the Minister's promise of over a year ago, that he would not bring tomatoes into this country after 31st July. He asked us earlier to grow them, and now he is swamping the market as well as allowing tomatoes to come in right into August. My hon. Friend mentioned that we were bringing in five times the quantity of gooseberries that we did previously. Imports of hothouse strawberries are to be up by 50 per cent. Yet we in this country had to grow tomatoes in our hothouses, at the same time as this luxury production from abroad is allowed to be brought in. Would it not be better to spend our money on feedingstuffs for animals rather than bringing in luxuries like hothouse strawberries. Fruit pulp is coming in in unlimited quantities. It is estimated that onions will come in this year at the rate of 250,000 tons. I asked the Minister of Food the other day what was the consumption of onions last year in this country. He replied it was 152,000 tons."the horticulturist has no reason to be discouraged, but he can look forward to continued progress."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th April, 1947; Vol. 436, c. 1504.]
1948. I do not know why the Minister expects the consumption of onions suddenly to be doubled this yearBefore I sit down I want to make some suggestions about this import trouble and how to get over it. In any agreements that are made a clause should be inserted to suspend imports if necessary. In other words, if there is going to be a glut on the home market we should arrange for a suspension of imports, or failing that we should arrange for less and bring in more at the last moment if necessary. That would be much better than bringing in too much and then trying to stop it at the last moment. Another suggestion is that imports should be spread over the months to bring more regularity to trade. We must remember that we shall only be able to buy these imports if we sell the machinery we are making in this country. The time will come when we shall not be able to sell all that we have. We must prepare now against that day. We can grow in this country as well as anywhere else the horticultural food that we require. It is not like asking us to grow uneconomic crops like tobacco or oranges. We only want to grow stuff which we can grow economically and well. Instead of all the troubles we are having the Minister ought to be looking after our marketing schemes. He has of course brought in a Marketing Bill, but growers are anxious to help with their own co-operative societies. In the case of the societies we have got going already, it has taken as long as 18 months to get licences out of the Ministry of Food. That is not helpful, and although I may not agree with an hon. Member opposite who described the Minister of Food as the "devil incarnate," he is certainly the "villain of the piece." Is the Minister going to lend some capital to help these co-operative societies? Is he going to provide wood for boxes or supply boxes ready made? The Dutch have very few trees in the whole of their country, but they are able to get as many boxes as they want. I believe that the best boxes are those made out of white lime, a timber which Italy can supply and we want to help Italy if we can. We demand that the Minister will do something to get us boxes. What I really want to know is who speaks for horticulture in the Cabinet. I know there is a representative there, but he must make his case extremely badly. Does the Prime Minister know that it has been announced in this House that more crops have been destroyed this year than in the past 20 years all put together. Does the Prime Minister know of the critical situation in which the horticulture industry is? If not I am going to take care to post him a copy of HANSARD so that he can read about this Debate. I regret very much that there has not been a single Liberal present up to the moment, to put their case to the Prime Minister. They represent many horticultural interests. We want cheap food and plenty of it. It would be much better to let private enterprise buy our meat; and to use our money to buy feedingstuffs to produce pork and eggs in this country. We want cheap horticultural products, and I believe we can grow these at home. At the same time we want support from the Government. Instead of that we see the Minister of Food smashing this vital industry and actually ruining the growers.
In summing up this short Debate for the Conservative Opposition there are one or two questions I should like to put to the Parliamentary Secretary, who I understand is replying. While we do not question his competence to do so, I am sure that we are all sorry that other engagements should keep the Minister of Agriculture away. I hope that the presence of the Minister of Food here this morning does not account for the absence of the Minister of Agriculture. We have had a number of very interesting speeches, not the least interesting being the three from back bench Members of the Socialist Party. The speech of the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins) was the conventional little essay with the conclusion that we all expected. I am sure we were all delighted to see him here with the red tie which he always wears when making speeches in the House of Commons—a tie which I venture to think we see more often than do his farming constituents in Somerset.We were interested in some of the remarks he made. His figures were a little wild. The selling figures of the broccoli from Cornwall for example would certainly surprise the Cornish growers. He questioned the consumption of onions in this country, and in doing so he questioned the accuracy of the Ministry of Food. It was from the Ministry of Food that we obtained the figure that the monthly consumption of onions was 20,000 tons, which even under Socialist arithmetic adds up to 240,000 at the end of the year. The hon. Member for Taunton really agreed with our general contentions which have lead us to ask for this Debate. He asked which Minister speaks for horticulture, and he mentioned that when questions were directed to the Minister of Agriculture it was the Minister of Food who answered and vice versa. He obviously shares with us our view that in this important field there is no proper Ministerial or Departmental co-operation. He ended with a plea that all our own growers who produced efficiently should find a secure market. That is all that we are asking, and it is because that is not so that we have promoted this Debate today. The other two speeches were rather more remarkable. They were from the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines) and the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). I am sorry that the hon. Member for East Ham, North, has left the Chamber. He said that we knew more about nonsense on this side of the House than he did. That must be my excuse for referring briefly to his speech, which was a typical Socialist speech. Whatever may be said when trying to woo the rural constituencies, the hon. Member spoke with the authentic voice of political Socialism. If a speech like that is heard in rural communities that may have been hovering in previous years on the balance between one party and another, I have very little doubt what their conclusions will be. The hon. Member spoke with the uninstructed voice of uninstructed consumers, whose policy in previous years has brought the primary producers all over the world to desperate plights. As to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, he said no more than did the hon. Member for East Ham, North, but he said it even more offensively. This is a Debate on commercial horticulture. We are now concerned with the livelihood of people who are being encouraged to get their livings out of commercial horticulture. The speeches from the other side of the House seem to have lost sight of the fact that we are referring to people who have been asked and encouraged to grow these crops. The fate of the crops is not only the personal concern of the people who grew them but is the concern of the Government that asked those people to grow them. I would make one reference to the problem of people who grow their own vegetables for their own consumption, including the large army of allotment holders in this country. The number of allotments was bound to come down in a steep decline after the war. That was obvious but it has declined rather more than we think it need have done. There are 300,000 people who have given up their allotments since this Government came into power, which means that some £5 million in value has been lost. The allotments advisory committee of the Ministry of Agriculture are preparing a report. We should be very grateful if the production of the report could he accelerated and if it could be published. Many of us have a keen interest in the allotment movement and think that it is very important to give it every encouragement. Our main purpose today is to deal with the commercial horticulturist. This Debate has to be kept very short, only some two hours, and I must give the Minister time to reply. I therefore cannot deal with the big problem of marketing and distribution nor with the grading of the products themselves which are of the very greatest importance; nor can I deal with co-operative organisation among the producers, to which matter we also attach the greatest importance. None of those issues will be happily solved until there is greater co-ordination between the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food, and until we have stability for British horticulture. I would say in passing that I have read with interest the statement of Socialist policy published two days ago. I saw also with interest that there was no mention in the statement of implementing the Lucas Report. The problem with which it dealt is not so simple as some Socialist speakers in town districts, or the two hon. Members who have addressed us, would like to pretend. There is no evidence that any such scheme of marketing and distribution is likely to form part of Socialist policy. They have used these things in argument, but when a chance comes for them to put forward a plan for public acceptance in their next election programme it is conspicuously missing. When, a day or two ago, the Prime Minister made his astonishing statement that we had to buy abroad things that we did not really want, one hon. Member behind him asked him whether the problem of vegetable distribution could not be largely solved when marketing and distribution plans had been rationalised. The Prime Minister nodded his head. There is no mention of the introduction of any scheme of rationalisation of this highly complicated business, because the Government know that this is not something which can be solved by putting forward a few political theories and that it requires a great deal more thought than they have Oven to it in previous years. We attach great importance to the grading of home agricultural produce. We welcomed many years ago the national mark scheme and we deplore the fact that that scheme is not now in operation. We welcome the issue by the Ministry of Agriculture recently of recommended grades for root vegetables, broccoli and cauliflowers. I hope that the growers in my own Division will follow out the advice of the Ministry. These reports all demand suitable conditions at home. What is the good of telling the broccoli growers that if they grade their products they will get a better market, when statements are made such as that which was made by the Minister of Food on 21st March. He then said that he intended to use the price situation in order to give cheap broccoli to the British housewife without regard to the price at which it came into the country, whether it was being sold by the foreign exporter at a loss over here, and without regard to the effect on our own home growers. Every horticulturist tries to make a profit averaging over the whole year and over the average of the products that he produces. They know that they may get no return or even a loss on some crops, but they hope they can get a better profit on some other crops than would otherwise content them. It does not always follow that it is in the public interest to import produce from abroad in such a way as will bring particular prices down. In regard to Cornish broccoli a most extraordinary situation seems to have arisen, because the National Farmers' Union were never properly consulted either about the postponement of the date of prohibiting new imports into this country or about doubling the overall total of broccoli that were coming in. They were told that the imports would be kept at the pre-war level, but they have gone up some 50 per cent. It means that people like myself who believe in market- ing schemes and grading are confronted by our own constituents with the results of bringing in imports about which their elected leaders were not consulted at all. The main purpose of the Debate is to deal with the lack of co-operation between the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food. I know that the Minister of Food will forgive me if I say that he has done a great deal of harm already in his Ministerial career. I am not going into the meat muddle but there is one consequence of it which everyone expected, except the Minister of Food, and it was the falling off of the demand for vegetables. Until we have a sensible meat policy there will not be a stimulated demand for vegetables such as we all desire. My main complaint against him today is that his action and speeches have been wholly at variance with the speeches made by the Minister of Agriculture. It reminds me of a story about the Foreign Secretary. It is reported that the Foreign Secretary came back some years ago from a conference and was confronted with two totally different statements made by two Ministers in his own Cabinet, upon the same issue. The right hon. Gentleman replied: "There is too much damned private enterprise in this Socialist Government." I know the real answer and I think we can sympathise with the Minister of Agriculture in the problems in which he now finds himself involved. We know that he wants to give security to horticulture. We know that he was behind his previous Parliamentary Secretary when our growers were told to look forward to continuous progress. We know that at Lincoln only a short while ago he said that the acreage under vegetables would be maintained, and that there would be an increase in the fruit acreage, and we know also that in connection with glasshouse acreage, arrangements are to be made for an annual increase of some 65 acres in the total area under glass. However, in making all these promises he reckoned without the Minister of Food who intends to use the price weapon to keep prices down. The Minister of Food is doing pretty well. Over the last three years he has succeeded in causing hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of loss to British horticulturists who followed the advice of the Minister of Agriculture. Let us take last year alone. I shall not go further back, although most people will remember 1946 and 1947 as well. In regard to 1948 and the lettuce situation, the imports in the first five months were above the 1947 level and over the year as a whole they were double what they were the year before. In my own constituency hundreds of acres were ploughed in, and a great many more were over the country as a whole. Last year the same situation arose in regard to many other crops. Apple-growers were told by the right hon. Gentleman in July that there would be decontrol at the beginning of the season. They laid their plans accordingly. In September they were told that there would not be decontrol. It is rumoured that the Minister of Agriculture first heard about this decision when he turned on his wireless set at home. The Channel Islands, to which we are, quite rightly, sending money to help in the task of recovery, were told to grow more early potatoes last year, and they did so, and just as their potatoes were coming into this market, up went imports from Poland and Denmark. The classic case is the situation in regard to onions. In my division it is calculated that last year some 30 per cent. of our entire onion crop was lost. If efficiently grown, onions cost some £75 an acre to grow, and of this bill some £50 goes in labour costs, so it is a very good crop from the workers' point of view. I could give the House dozens of instances of people who lost hundreds of pounds out of their very limited assets. What is true of onions is also true of leeks. The defence given by the Minister of Food and, from time to time, by the Minister of Agriculture is that they cannot budget for the home crop—
When I referred to the hon. Member, he was not in his place, and I cannot give way now. If the hon. Member is not sufficiently interested to sit here for a short Debate of only two hours, I am not going to give way just to suit his convenience.The Government's defence is that they cannot budget on what the home production will be because they do not know it. It would be difficult to find a more futile argument. We have the cropping returns, the elaborate Ministry of Agriculture system under which the progress of the crops can be brought to the notice of the Government all the time. It is true that we have lost the Horticultural Advisory Committee and recently the Market Supply Committee, but there is no difficulty whatever in keeping the Government informed of the progress of home crops. Many instances could be cited of growers who knew what the yield would be, finding on the very eve of marketing their crop that the market had been flooded with imports. One would have thought that with our experience of last year, we should not be making the same mistake again, but in practice we are doing so. This is where I come to the two recent trade treaties, one with Holland and one with Poland. They throw into sharp relief all the faults and failures of Government policy over the last three years. We do not deny the need to make treaties with foreign countries from time to time. I am very interested to find that the Minister of Food, for all his objection to General Franco, persists in buying Spanish oranges when it suits him. A very good thing too. I heard him muttering about that. We do not in the least quarrel with the making of commercial treaties, but we consider that it would have been possible to incorporate in them safeguards which would have protected the home grower and at the same time brought advantage to the British consumer. I shall deal first with the Treaty with the Netherlands. There was no real consultation between the growers and the Government, and when the terms of the treaty were published, the National Farmers' Union stated that their horticultural section had heard of them with great astonishment. No attempt after first talks was made to ask them which were the suitable dates, how the imports could be spread more evenly over the whole importing year, or what safeguards should be incorporated if any one of the crops at home happened to produce an unexpectedly bumper yield. Tomatoes have been mentioned. I shall not go into detail as to what we shall have from Holland except to say that up to 30th June it is more than Holland has ever produced before. We are, therefore, creating a new industry there while we are harming our own industry. At the same time our own hothouse growers are struggling under renewed difficulties caused largely by the Minister of Fuel and Power. In my constituency in the last few months the substitution of coke for coal has sent up the cost on two and a half acres of glass by some £325 a year to growers who get no guaranteed price, as the Dutch do on two-thirds of their crop, and who cannot get non-returnable containers but are subjected to the full force of this competition. As to onions, all the experience of the last year seems to have been forgotten, although we are glad that there is to be a review of the situation before 15th September. However, we recognise the need to make an agreement with Holland. When Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands was over here during the war, he came down to a non-political gathering in my constituency and was cheered, as was the Kingdom of Holland. At the end he said to me, "I wonder what will happen when the Dutch market gardeners want to send their produce to England after the war. Will they cheer me then as they are cheering me now?" I said what I thought was true, that it would be possible to work out harmonious and complementary arrangements between our countries. However, complementary arrangements demand that our own producers are brought into the picture from the very beginning, but they have not been brought in. The considerations which apply to the Christian State of Holland, which is playing a large part in European and Western European recovery, do not apply at present to the over-run State of Poland which has temporarily fallen behind the Iron Curtain. The new Treaty raises quite different considerations. It may be that one day we shall regret the £20 million of capital equipment and the oil and the rubber which we are sending to Poland. I am sure we shall regret the fact that we are buying their bacon and eggs rather than that of the Canadians. I know that our growers here deeply regret the large volume of horticultural products, rising in the case of onions to 60,000 tons a year, which we are now obliged to take from Poland. It is a justifiable grievance that there was no negotiation with the growers' representatives. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams) in urging that we should insert in these agreements safeguarding clauses under which the terms can be varied if we produce unexpectedly large quantities at home, that we should rely more on ad hoc imports, which as in the case of the Dutch tomatoes they are able to send when we want them, than on long term agreements and that we should spread the imports more evenly over the whole importing year. I hope that we shall do something to restore the specific import duties on horticultural produce coming into England which in pre-war years limited the quantity which entered when the price declined at home but did not limit the quantity entering when the price at home rose. In my own constituency, for example, if growers knew that lettuce was coming down from 2s. 6d. to 2s. per crate of two dozen they would know that imports would stop. Last year they would have known that if onions came down to as low as £12 per ton, the imports would stop, but if the home crop was either so small or the home growers so misguided as to raise the price unduly, then the specific import duties allowed for the entry of imported produce. This is, in part, a world problem, but only in part. Insofar as it is a world problem, we of the Conservative Party wish the International Federation of Agricultural Producers, who are having their conference on horticulture in London this month, every success in working out a European partnership in regard to these problems. However, it is not only a world problem, it is also a domestic problem, and it is because we believe that the interests of our domestic growers are not safe in the hands of the Government where the Minister of Food is a more powerful figure than the Minister of Agriculture, that we have asked for this Debate today.
I think that last remark is in many ways typical of the speeches we have had from the other side in this Debate and typical of the kind of repetition of assertions, which are no more than assertions, backed up with an extraordinary amount of intemperate extravagance of language of which the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) is such a perfect exponent.We have said again and again that so far as these two Departments are concerned there is the closest consultation and discussion about all these things. If hon. Members on the other side of the House are determined not to believe it, then nobody can do anything about it and they must go on in their determination of misbelief. I hope to show that, in order to back up their assertions of misbelief, they indulge in the most extraordinary, contradictory, self-destructive arguments. Before I come to that, let me say a word or two about the speech of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford. Then I want to talk on the general issues raised, and finally I hope to pick up one or two of the specific issues. On the question of consultation, the hon. Gentleman referred to the Polish Agreement and said that the producers were not consulted. He made the same allegation about changes in the Netherlands Agreement. Let us get it clear that it is certainly our business—and we have followed it out far better than any Government which went before—to have the closest consultation in general terms on general issues with the producers in this field. If hon. Members opposite ever hope to get back to this side of the House, they ought not to try to establish that any Government negotiating a general commercial agreement are bound at one stage to say, "Will you hold this up until we get to our people at home and get permission to sign the agreement?" That is a fantastic suggestion. On the question of consultation nobody on that side of the House has faced up to one important thing. I have seen the briefs which hon. Gentlemen—in some cases reasonably, in other unreasonably—have spoken from but no one refers to the fact that at the end of 1946 there were long and close discussions between the Ministry of Agriculture, the producers and the Ministry of Food about the terms of licences and imports of vegetable products, and so on for the following year, and that in almost every case the amendments that the producers wanted were made. On hardly any issue at all have we deviated from that 1946 Agreement. Indeed, the Netherlands Agreement does not infringe it at all. Therefore, if we have had consultations with the producers on the broad issues, if we have got as near as damn it—I beg your pardon, Sir—if we have as nearly as possible—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"]—got an agreement with them about the details, and our subsequent negotiations—except for the little give and take that goes on in national negotiations—are within the four walls of that, I say we have had all the consultation it is reasonable to expect. The next thing we have to do is what we have done, to see to it that at the termination of negotiations the producers are told straight away, if possible before publicity is given to it, of what has happened, where they stand, and how it fits in with what has been done. All that has been done, and to that extent, I say there is nothing in this allegation that we do not consult with the producers or that there is subsequently no co-ordination between the two Departments in following up. So far as the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford is concerned, in addition to his extravagance of language, he showed the engaging little trait of being slightly inaccurate on detail. The hon. Gentleman talked about the importation of leeks and about the importation of new potatoes from Denmark.
All I said was that the importation of onions had destroyed the leek crop.
I am glad to have given the hon. Gentleman a chance of making that clear. One other thing—slightly by the way but I had better deal with it—is that the hon. Gentleman asked why we bought Polish bacon instead of Canadian bacon. We are not discussing bacon, but the currency used for one is not the currency used for another. We have had a long Debate for a week about our currency difficulties. It is impossible to discuss this without taking into account any of these other things.May I say one word about the hon. Gentleman's comment on my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). The hon. Gentleman said that the speech of my hon. and learned Friend would be heard with interest in the rural areas. I believe it will. I think it was hon. Baronet the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) who interjected at the time of the speech, "I wonder how many votes that will lose?" Honesty in politics in this country never lost any votes at all, but political opportunism of the kind the other side are now applying will cost them dear. It is not at all a bad thing that somebody should say to the countryside—and somebody who is as closely concerned as my hon. and learned Friend who has taken such a courageous stand—that somebody should say to the countryside—I am myself prepared to say it and am continually saying it—
Let me finish—that somebody should say to the countryside and to the farmers that they are entitled to the best protection within the national interest that can be given them.
I did not say that.
It is no use hon. Gentlemen opposite talking as though they are "a farm lobby," as they say in the United States, whose sole job it is to press for one section of the community without considering the others.
As the hon. Gentleman has referred to me, let us have it quite clearly on record that the Parliamentary Secretary agrees with what the hon. and learned Member for Northampton said in his speech, and that it is the view of the Government on these matters.
No. The hon. Baronet is now trying the oldest trick in the world. I was nailing him down in his statement that the fact that my hon. and learned Friend has spoken his courageous belief would lose votes. I am saying that to say that kind of thing, if one believes it, to the farmers of this country is a much better service than to talk sheer political opportunism of which we have heard rather more than I think is good this afternoon. Now may I say a word about one or two of the general issues that have been raised?
I had better get on because we are limited in time. The hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate began with the general allegation—referred to again and again, and to which I myself referred just now—that we have not had proper consultation with the industry over the Netherlands Agreement. I hope I have made it quite clear that within the terms of the 1946 Agreement we had complete consultation with them about the licences, the dates, and all those other things, and that we have not departed from it. Indeed—and this may be news to the hon. Gentleman—this year we have brought the period of the open general licence for Netherlands tomatoes back to 30th June from where it was before. So in that sense we have moved even further than we were pressed to do by the producers. We have not violated in any way the terms of that 1946 Agreement, except in regard to one very minor detail which has not been mentioned in the Debate and really is not very important.
What is the violation?
The only difference is a very minor one affecting radishes.What we must get into our minds and the minds of our constituents is that we must get this whole problem into proper perspective. It has never been suggested by my right hon. Friend, nor by anybody else associated with the Ministry, that the sharp increase of vegetable production that occurred during the war could go on at the same rate afterwards. It has been said again and again that, broadly speaking, we must maintain the acreage at its war-time level. That has been the sense of the undertaking, and we have not departed from it. But in 1948 the acreage put down to vegetables in this country was 16,000 acres greater than in 1947, which was itself much greater than during war time. It is not that we have led growers to go on increasing; for reasons best known to themselves—this is what clashes so absurdly with the extravagance of the arguments from the other side—they have gone on increasing the acreage put down to vegetables. If it were allowed to go on at that rate, it could not be alleged that we have somehow violated the encouragement we have given to them. It would mean simply that the line—the encouragement—that we have taken has to a large extent been disregarded. On top of that, let us get quite clearly the position about imports. The pre-war total of imports of vegetables of the kind we have been discussing was 440,000 tons annually; in 1947 it was 424,000 tons; in 1948, 395,000 tons; so that it is considerably less—and less even in 1948 than in 1947—in both these years than before the war. We are not, therefore, flooding the market or bringing in surplus goods for dumping, as one hon. Member has said. In fact, imports are at a very ordinary and controlled rate at any time.
The hon. Gentleman says that there has been a steady decrease in the amount of imports. Would he now say, then, whether there has been a change of policy, in view of the fact that the Anglo-Polish Agreement for onions aims at bringing in more and more each year?
There has been no change of policy. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will wait, I will try in the limits of time left to me to deal with all these points.
The figures which the hon. Gentleman has quoted are not those as given in the Trade and Navigation Returns, which show that imports for 1947 were 29 million cwts. and in 1948, 34 million cwts.; that the value of imports in 1947 was £82 million odd and in 1948, £96 million.
The value of the imports does not enter into the argument; I am dealing with tonnage, but with a little mental arithmetic I shall try to reconcile the figures. As I understand it, the tonnage figures were 424,000 tons in 1947, and 395,000 tons in 1948.
It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to choose two particular figures. I have not had a chance to see them, but when I come to them I think I will be able to find the means of reconciliation without any great difficulty.I was very glad to hear some discussion today on constructive points and on the question of what ought to be done. Let me say something about the undertaking which the Minister gave at the time the 1947 Act passed through this House. He then said:
That was the Minister's statement, and it is still the view of the Government, but there are responsibilities all round about this. One of the reasons I was glad to hear part of the speech of the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Baker White) was that it clearly recognised the extent to which producers themselves have responsibilities in this field. Many people have thought—and several hon. Gentlemen opposite have mentioned it—that one of the chief needs of the horticultural industry is organisation amongst its own producers. The Government believe that that view is right. It is for the industry itself to remedy the lack of organisation, with all the help which the Government can give, and will be glad to give, in this field. Already this Government have made available a new form of organisation through the Industrial Organisation and Development Act, 1947. Moreover, the Government have in the last few months asked Parliament to approve a Bill to amend the Agricultural Marketing Acts, to ensure that marketing schemes can be brought into being under post-war conditions with the full backing of Parliament and of public opinion. Already a scheme to regulate the marketing of tomatoes and cucumbers has been submitted to the Minister and we are now considering with the promoters what amendments need to be made before it is presented. Other individual crops may well be suitable subjects for marketing schemes. It may well be, however, that the time is not yet ripe for a scheme under the Marketing Acts to cover the whole range of horticultural crops, and it is possible that the necessary basic organisation could be more quickly and more easily provided by a Development Council scheme under the Industrial Organisation and Development Act. There is much to be done in the field of horticulture. During the war years, as somebody on this side has said, quality had to be sacrificed for quantity, and the industry has to regain the ground lost during the war years and to reintroduce the general practice of quality grading. In this big industry we are trying to help with new grades. A number of graded products have been introduced in the past 12 months or so, in agreement with the industry, and are being tried out. There is a good deal to be done and, as somebody—again, on this side—said, and as the hon. Gentleman seemed to recognise, we must concentrate no less upon the constructive side of this discussion than upon the purely destructive attempt to prove that there is something wrong. Let me refer now to tomatoes. It has been alleged that the Ministry's agreement with the Netherlands (a) was silly because it includes more than they can produce and (b) will damage our own industry. Let us be quite clear. We do not buy these tomatoes. We undertake to let in under open general licence for a limited period—and limited quantities for a different period—such tomatoes as private enterprise here is willing to buy and for which it thinks it can find a market. If the market is not here, the tomatoes will not come in. There is no guarantee; no Government bulk buying of 23,000 tons of tomatoes from the Netherlands. Several hon. Gentlemen seemed to misunderstand this. The position is that of the 23,000 tons mentioned for this year something like 9,000 tons will come in under the controlled period after the open general licence period has ended. That leaves 14,000 tons, at the most, to come in under open general licence. I have seen figures indicating that the producers' representatives themselves have talked in terms of 12,500 tons, so that if the worst happened—if that is the right word to use—and all that quantity came in, it would not be substantially outside the figures that producers' representatives have themselves been talking about for that period. There is, therefore, no dumping, no sudden bringing in of a surplus. I think it was the hon. Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams) who raised the point about bringing in quantities in August. While he was speaking I hurriedly looked up the sort of prices operating last year. I find that in the third week of August the wholesale price was 24s. for 12 lbs., compared with 14s. 1d. for the same period in 1947. 13s. in 1946 and 4s. 6d. for the same period in 1938, which is the period to which hon. Gentlemen seem to want to return. The price last year, therefore, became absurdly high and began to have its own bad effect on producers because it began to kill the market amongst them. To that extent, we cannot say that there is not a market for some importations from Holland in August. I turn now to onions. It is very easy to get the picture out of perspective. I have said in the country to onion producers, and I say again here, that so far as last year was concerned, everybody was being wise after the event."… the Government fully recognise that there is a substantial range of products, particularly horticultural crops, which are not covered by the provision of assured markets and guaranteed prices, although they are, in fact, subject to the efficiency test under Part II. I want to make it clear that it is the Government's intention that the general objective in Clause 1 shall apply to the industry as a whole, and that they fully recognise that other means of obtaining this object for these other products must be devised."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th January, 1947; Vol. 432, c. 631.]
No, they were not.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman says that they were not, but if he will allow me to continue I will repeat that they were. The quantities to be imported under the Agreement and the period of the closed season were agreed upon at the time the 1946 Agreement was drawn up. We did not infringe that at all. That applied in 1947. We had no representations at all at the beginning of 1948 that it should not apply then. It was not until we were all wise after the event that the producers themselves began to feel that in the light of what had happened, we should have made a change. Everyone was wise after the event. The maximum crop of onions we had before last year was 75,000 tons. In the event, last year, because of the kind of year it was, we got 125,000 tons. The difference was so enormous that we were faced with a sudden and unprecedented jump forward which made a difficulty which no one, producers or anyone else, could foresee. I was glad to hear the hon. Member mention, and I see that the producers have expressed appreciation of the fact, that for 1949 we have made the arrangement more flexible so that we can decide what amount we shall need. I repeat that there was nothing for which we alone, or the industry or anyone could be held responsible.There has been a discussion as to the actual figure of consumption of onions and the bearing which it may have on the amount we let in. The hon. Member for Tonbridge quoted 152,000 tons. I gather he was talking of the year July, 1947, to June, 1948. The best estimate that can be made and which I think my hon. Friend has given, and which the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford repeated, is that this year the consumption will be more of the order of 240,000 tons to 250,000 tons. If we look at the pre-war figures we find that home production was only 7,000 tons. Vegetable growers are being told what the party opposite would do for them but we can remember that there were only 7,000 tons from home growers when they had power and the importation was 250,000 tons. If we compare the percentage of 250,000 tons brought in and only 7,000 tons from home growers, with the position now, there can be no question of which party has provided a market for the output by home growers. I believe there is little or no case at all in this onions question if one looks at the figures.
Will the hon. Member allow me?—
No, I cannot give way, because I have already gone over time and it is very unfair to other back bench Members. The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) raised the question of Cornish broccoli growers. If he will look at the prices which Cornish broccoli has made throughout the season and the prices ruling yesterday for Cornish cauliflowers and ruling today, he will see that it is absurd to say that imports have broken the Cornish market, or badly hurt Cornish growers. It is not true on the figures. The time when I heard most complaint was in the early part of the season when we let in such a small amount of cauliflowers that it could not hurt home growers. It was the good year, and competition from other parts of the country when Cornishmen were expecting the market to be theirs alone, that caused the difficulty.My hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Dames) is entitled to his views. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedford, who tried to make a little mischief about this, will perhaps understand that we are a party which believes in the individual rights of Members to hold individual views—[Interruption.] The hon. Member may find that very difficult to understand, in view of his own party experience; but it is different on this side. At the same time, the fact of my hon. Friend holding a different view does not absolve me from the duty of countering that view. My hon. Friend must be careful, as some of the things he said might be unfair and somewhat dangerous to workers in whom he and I reckon to have an interest. It is no use talking as though the home horticultural industry is getting too much unless we take into the account the condition of the workers in that industry. Many of them had shocking conditions at the same time that farmers had bad prices under the regime of the party opposite. The workers in the horticultural and farming industry are enjoying better conditions now than ever before and many are members of the local consumers' cooperative societies in their areas. It is no use talking as if we want to get the industry back to what it was before the war, or as though my right hon. Friend is in some way playing a Codlin and Short game, and talking about shovelling out millions every time we want a new emphasis in our policy. We have to take into account the fact that we are asking small farmers to produce certain kinds of arable crops in conditions under which they would not normally produce them, if left to themselves. If we want them to produce those crops, we must give them conditions to insure them against the costs and difficulties on which they embark. The hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) referred to the fact that the Secretary of State for Scotland was not here and that he knew that I could not answer him. As I have made many attempts and have never succeeded in answering him yet, I am coming to the belief that he was right. I went to considerable lengths to find out which Minister, or Ministers, were wanted by the hon. Members raising the Debate. At one time we considered having two speeches from the Government Front Bench, because it was thought that hon. Members opposite wanted to hear from the Ministry of Food as well. But we came to the conclusion that that would be unfair on back benchers. As hon. Members said that they wanted a reply from the Ministry of Agriculture, I have replied to the Debate. It is unfair to say that there was any discourtesy to the House.
In fairness to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan), I should say that while we recognise that there could only be one answer there is no reason why my hon. and gallant Friend should not want a representative of the Scottish Office to be present. But one Ministerial speech is quite enough.
I am glad to have the ready admission of the hon. Member that my speech has been quite sufficient to demolish the case which has been put up. There is nothing in Conservative past or Conservative present policy that leads one to believe that they would deal with this any differently.—[Laughter.]—To say they would deal with it no differently is not to say that they would not do it worse—the two things can be true at once. In the Conservative Charter they say that fruit and vegetables are perishable and that it is therefore impracticable to guarantee prices for them, and that is what we say—[HON. MEMBERS: "Read on."]—What we then go on to say, and what they say, is that other means should be found. They talk about tariffs but we are operating quantative limits on imports, closed periods and general licences. There is the closest co-operation between the two Departments and I hope I have shown that the case of the Opposition is as untrue as it is extravagant.